29 SEPTEMBER 2008
Let me start by sharing a State Secret with you about the State of the Nation. The nation is fine. There is no crisis. It is business most unusual, but not surprising. One would expect this fourteen-year old democracy to once again prove itself to be unique.
We do not follow some blueprint for survival. We are the blueprint. Only we would swop a former president with a degree in economics and the vision of an African Renaissance, for a possible future president with Standard Three and a machinegun in his song. Jacob Zuma still has a few months in which to find his umshini wami. Meanwhile: the nation is fine.
In a democracy it is normal to be surprised by change. As the great Greek philosopher Daelius Hertus said: 'If democracy is too good to share with just anyone, it is time to ask the question: Quo Vadis.' So where to?
Apartheid was democracy for the few. So South Africa did ask that question. 'Quo Vadis?' In 1976, Soweto shook the foundations of the land. 'Liberation before Education' became the war cry of the Struggle and eventually we got liberation at the cost of a generation without education. 1990 was another sinkhole that swallowed up a bad political mistake and replaced it with an impossible dream come true. We whites got away with apartheid. There was no Nuremburg Trial. None of us was hung like Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity. In fact President Nelson Mandela even invited some of us to join his Government of National Unity. 1994 became the first year in the life of this
new chance for all. Then after a glorious five years with Nelson Mandela as our first democratically-elected president, he stepped down - which is very un-African - and made way for the vision of Thabo Mbeki.
Once I got over the shock that the name 'Thabo' was an anagram for 'Botha', I realized that this was not just politics as usual. It was a calling. Thabo Mbeki had been planning his campaign for 30 years, sipping whisky in a Brighton hotel. He was not the favourite to succeed Madiba. But as an eventual graduate from the University of Moscow and a Stalinist Cum Laude, he soon cut our democratic foot to fit his authoritarian shoe. The rich got richer and the poor just became a statistic. 'Ignore them and they will go away' was the shrug of commitment from Ama-Tswane, and they did go away in spite of the generous helpings of beetroot, African potatoes and garlic.
I was always very impressed by Thabo Mbeki. Not only did he look so nice in his little suits, his hair was always neat and even though we had to put Tipex in his beard to make him look older and more distinguished, he eventually grew into the image of leader and visionary. His speeches were legendary. They overwhelmed me with their brilliance. I never knew what he meant, but he said
it so nicely, quoting from Shakespeare, Woolworths and Thesaurus. But he was never here.
On the few occasions when Thabo Mbeki came to South Africa on his short state visits, it was usually only before an election to show a human side to his Mbekivellian designs. He would hug children, kiss old ladies and shake hands. He became a man of the people. What we didn't know was that after the
cameras left, he would vomit for hours, allergic to the touch of the common populace.
In Afrikaans we say: 'wat jy saai, sal jy maai.' Whereas in Shakespeare, enemies were dispatched by knife, sword or pike, in Thabo's world they were either swallowed up by the collective leadership, sent to Taiwan as ambassador, or elbowed out into the real world of business and commerce.
Then came Polokwane, the ANC's Rubicon. Like P.W. Botha, who was eventually washed off his pedestal by the waves of farewell after his famous speech, Thabo was spectacularily stranded on the sandbank of irrelevance by the recent Zunami. It brought home that fatal lesson: never take democracy for granted. Two centres of power emerged: the Mbekivellians to the right and the Jacobians
to the left. In an upside-down political turmoil the lowest common denominator tends to float on top. The nation was appalled to see the likes of a Julius Malema annexing the media headlines with cries to kill and eliminate. The tripartite alliance (from apartheid to tripartite? Does history always repeat itself in rhyme and rythmn?) from Communist to Cosatuist was demanding pieces of the melktert of power.
But democracy is not the motionless stone statue of a roaring lion. It is a shaggy old dog that needs to give itself a good shake every now and then so that the fleas can fall off. In the last week the fattest fleas have flown in all directions. The Angel of Death, formerly Minister of Health, is now in
the Presidency as Minister, having taken over from the Eminence Gris, Essop the Dour. I once met him in a dark passage and thought I'd be catapulted into the underworld of 'The Lord of the Rings.' The King of the Orcs! But Manto is happy. She will now always be near the Cabinet! Will her new liver finally reject the body?
The Minister of Intelligence is also gone. Ronnie Kasrils was always more the one and less of the other. They say he was better off with his former portfolio where he could smoke examples of his forestry. Terror, the Minister of War, is gone and left us with expensive boats that don't sail, priceless
submarines that won't submerge, state-of-the-art fighter planes that rust on the ground and a wish list of a few more billion rands worth of heavy-muscle armaments. We still don't know who the enemy is. Maybe we the people were seen as the greatest enemy and we have paid the price in hard-earned rands as a result.
While the Crown Prince of the ANC dances in his feathers and rare and protected animal skins and assagaais and spears, the party managed to stop the roundabout of chaos and take stock. ANC no longer stood for African National Congress but A Nice Cheque. Was this the liberation movement of Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela that came out of the darkness to give us light? Had we all forgotten the legacy of Madiba who proved that if you love your enemy, you will ruin his reputation? Was there someone with a brain in Lutuli House who was listening to the instinct of survival and reconciliation? Or would the struggle-tsotsis and political pirates take over the ship of state?